Friday, October 4, 2013

Where Farmers Markets and CSAs Fall Short

From In These Times:  http://inthesetimes.com/article/15623/where_farmers_markets_and_csas_fall_short

Mary Berry, daughter of poet Wendell Berry, wants to take local food beyond ‘a faddish economy.’

BY John Collins September 30, 2013 

Everything we eat has a story behind it. The bread aisle (at the store with the massive parking lot) is a thrill ride. That story starts on stretches of land in places you’ve never been. Its main characters are gene-splicing scientists, patented life forms and huge industrial robots. Fleets of 18-wheelers make epic road trips before the narrative climaxes in the cash register of one mega-corporation or another. By comparison, the story of sustainably raised, locally marketed food is a bucolic tale: a hop from farm to table.

In 1975, Wendell Berry—the poet, novelist, farmer, activist and philosopher—released The Unsettling of America. That collection of essays focused on the cultural and environmental implications of modern agriculture and the need to put intelligence before profit when it comes to the business of farming. On October 4 on PBS, Moyers & Company will present Wendell Berry: Poet and Prophet, a documentary produced by the Schumann Media Center that features a conversation between veteran journalist Bill Moyers and rural America's man of letters.

Thirty-eight years after the publication of The Unsettling of America, we remain disconnected from the production of the food that keeps us alive. What we put in our mouths we trust to the hands of an industry so massive it’s difficult to comprehend. Transforming the current system into one that values healthy land, production on a sensible scale and a reliable marketplace for small farmers requires a David-at-the-heels-of-Goliath kind of mindset.

Small farmers must select which stones to throw at Big Ag. And Mary Berry, Wendell’s daughter, is helping them take aim as executive director of the Berry Center in New Castle, Ky.

Why did you and your father create the Berry Center?

The Berry Center’s goal is to institutionalize agrarian thought and make a movement towards cultural change. We’ve been developing a four-year farm degree at St. Catherine College in Washington County, Kentucky. We're also working on a farm school, in Henry County, to help new or existing farmers learn what they need to know to get out of the commodity economy and into a local food economy. We're talking about everything farmers and landowners can produce on their land—from timber to tomatoes—and how to keep them secure, and out of a boom and bust economy.

We need to look at the economic system first. Farmers aren’t moving toward local food, but they will if they think there’s a reliable market. Right now, they’re in corn and soybeans because that’s where the money is. And in Kentucky there are a lot of beef cattle, and beef cattle, if they're well raised, and are dependent on perennial grasses, that's good. If they're raised on CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations]—on feedlots—that's not good.

The excitement for local food in Louisville, the closest big city, is not matched in the countryside where I live. It’s an uncertain market. Farmers are scared of it, and rightly so. Even farmers who are doing well at farmers markets are uncertain because they are unable to plan ahead. We need a food system that allows farmers to plan their economic year. That would mean farmers signing contracts. A good example: The largest school system in Kentucky is now contracting with some local farmers for produce and meat. The interest in the entrepreneurial aspect of small farms is wonderful and needs to continue, but we’re trying to take it a step further.

Continue reading at:  http://inthesetimes.com/article/15623/where_farmers_markets_and_csas_fall_short

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